Saturday, November 23, 2013

Middle East: Leap of Faith - Israel’s National Religious and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Source: International Crisis Group 

For peace talks to produce an agreement enjoying maximum legitimacy, Israel’s national-religious community should be engaged lest it obstruct the path to peace.

In its latest report, Leap of Faith: Israel’s National Religious and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, the International Crisis Group examines Israel’s national-religious community. Although a small minority, the national religious enjoy significant electoral strength and outsized influence in state institutions, including within the governing coalition. They have been seen as an obstacle to the peace process, and they and their concerns have been kept out of that process. But those striving to revive it should engage them in order to secure their support for – or at least acquiescence in – a two-state solution.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • Israel’s 2005 Gaza disengagement constituted a major blow to the national-religious community, prompting its leaders to shift focus from settlement construction to broadening support among Israeli Jews and heightening its presence in state institutions and political parties.
  • In general, the national religious show strong deference to decisions backed by a Jewish majority and equally strong hostility to violent resistance to the state. This should be of relevance in assessing reactions to a two-state solution and to future settlement evacuations.
  • The two-state agenda to date largely has been a project of the Israeli left, one that the national religious feel has both targeted them and neglected their concerns. In order to gain their support for – or at least acquiescence in – a two-state solution, careful attention must be paid to how their concerns might be addressed in an eventual deal, the method through which a deal is ratified and the manner in which it is implemented.
  • Although the national-religious community politically is stronger than ever, it has proved unable to definitively prevent partition of the land. It is both in full swing and in full crisis, with much of its present strength deriving from its integration in society at the expense of ideological purity.
  • Religiously motivated violence stems largely from small, theologically marginal groups. Despite more effective law enforcement and increased intervention by mainstream national-religious figures to condemn such acts, radical groups are gaining followers, especially among the young.
“Achieving national-religious support for a two-state solution will not be easy, nor – even with the best of efforts – can one expect such support to be either whole-hearted or comprehensive”, says Ofer Zalzberg, Middle East and North Africa Analyst. “Still, more can and should be tried to address national-religious concerns if a sustainable agreement is sought”.

“The peace process traditionally has done the least to attract those who – whether Israeli or Palestinian – have the most energy and the greatest incentive to undermine it”, says Robert Blecher, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director. “That is hardly the way to secure a viable, lasting and solid agreement”.